Autonomy and Sacred Texts

In class we have been trying to discern to which part of society each character belongs – who are the masters, and who are the servants? In reading this section I was struck by the thought that another, easier way than trying to assign class stations to characters such as Mr. Bruff, Miss Clack, and Ezra Jennings is to examine each person’s autonomy. The most independent of all the characters is obviously Miss Rachel Verinder, whose defining traits Bruff describes as an “absolute self-dependence” and the instinct to “shut herself up in her own mind” (278). Similarly, Sergeant Cuff needs no one else’s intellect to help his investigation and Roseanna Spearman maintains her solitude and self-reliance even after being “taught at the reformatory to feel [her] own degradation” (319). In contrast, the most servile characters in this novel are noticeable as being completely dependent on their own personal sacred texts. Betteredge has his battered Robinson Crusoe that guides him and Miss Clack her 48th edition of the Life, Letters, and Labours of Miss Jane Ann Stamper. In this section of the reading Ezra Jennings is revealed as also heavily relying on his own chosen works to shape his ideas and theories – he feels that they need the weight of “good authority” to be taken seriously. He revers Doctor Elliotson’s Human Physiology and uses it to “sanction [his] proposal” to Franklin (390). Although Miss Clack, Gabriel Betteredge, and Ezra Jennings do not strictly occupy the bottom rung of Victorian society, in this novel they are the servants.

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